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bryan bishop

manhood, marriage, and the tumor that tried to kill me

THOMAS DUNNE BOOKS ST. MARTIN’S PRESS NEW YORK

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thomas dunne books. An imprint of St. Martin’s Press. shrinkage. Copyright © 2014 by Bryan Bishop. Foreword copyright © 2014 by Adam Carolla. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010. www.thomasdunnebooks.com www.stmartins.com Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data (TK) ISBN 978-1-250- 03984-2 (hardcover) ISBN 978-1- 4668- 03984-2 (e-book) St. Martin’s Press books may be purchased for educational, business, or promotional use. For information on bulk purchases, please contact Macmillan Corporate and Premium Sales Department at 1-800-221-7945, extension 5442, or write specialmarkets @macmillan.com.

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First Edition: May 2014 10

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For Christie, my 50/50 partner IL U

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contents

Foreword by Adam Carolla

xiii

Prologue

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1 Breaking Bald; or, A Not-So-Mini Biography

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Making ADHD Pay; or, How I Turned a Disorder into a Career

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Falling in Love; or, “Will You Stop Talking Please? I’m Trying to Kiss You”

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Signs of Trouble; or, “Christie, I’m Sick”

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Diagnosis; or, “Whatever You Do, Don’t Google Low- Grade Glioma”

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6 The Worst Phone Call of My Life; or, “Mom and Dad? I Have Some Bad News” 7

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Telling Adam; or, “So I Won’t Be Able to Come to Work on Monday . . .”

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Always Bet on Black; or, Everything I Know, I Learned from Watching Wesley Snipes Movies

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Dr. Black; or, The “Rock” Star Brain Surgeon

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Contents

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Dr. McHottie and Dr. Redneck; or, The Rest of the Dream Team

11 The Worst People I’ve Ever Met; or, My Mount Rushmore of Douche Bags

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Best Case Scenarios; or, My Trip to the Sperm Bank

13 Chemo, Day One; or, A Journey of a Thousand Miles . . .

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Radiation; or, “I Wonder What She Has”

15 My Feel Good Playlist; or, “You’ve Got to Pay Your Dues If You Want to Sing the Blues” 16

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Constipation, and Other Early Symptoms; or, When the Shit Doesn’t Hit the Fan

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17 Sobering News; or, Announcing on the Podcast

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Barbara’s House of Healing; or, Alternative Therapies

19 “Rock” Bottom; or, The Day We Lost Our Engagement Ring

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20 My Bachelor Party; or, I Can’t Be the First Guy to Take Chemo in a Strip Club . . . Can I?

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21 Lies Doctors Tell You; or, “You’re Going to Feel Like a Million Bucks!”

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22 Our Wedding; or, Michael Jackson, Simply Red, and Glow Sticks

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23 Our Honeymoon; or, The Time My Wife Drugged Me at a Kids Pool in Maui

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24 Worsening Symptoms; or, “You’re Not Driving a Car . . . Are You?”

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Contents

25 My Brother’s Wedding; or, “Stuck in Lodi Again”

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26 Drew Brees, My Secret Admirer, and Poop; or, My Greatest Regrets

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27 Physical Therapy; or, Koosh Balls, Crutches, and Brightly Colored Shirts

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28 “Sleepless Nights” and “Pain”; or, Christie’s Story

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Avastin; or, The Big Gun

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Inpatient Therapy; or, The Closest I Ever Got to a Threesome

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Family Stress; or, Save the Drama for Your Mama

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The Exam of a Lifetime; or, My Next MRI

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“Laughs for Bald Bryan”; or, “Baby, how?!”

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Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying; or, Italy

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35 Razor Blades; or, How a Trip to Costco Became My Most Life-Affirming Moment 36

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Epilogue; or, Postscript, Afterword, Coda, Dénouement, Etc.

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Acknowledgments; or, Thanks, Shout-Outs, Etc.

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foreword

I met Bryan in 2002 when he was a young phone screener for Loveline. At the time, he had a few more hairs and a lot more pounds, but he always had confidence. Bryan is smart and knows it. And wants you to know it. As you read this book you’ll see just how sharp and clever he is. That’s why, when I got the job taking over for Howard Stern on the west coast in 2006, I brought Bryan with me to screen calls. I could not imagine anyone else being equal to that monumental task. You have to pick up the phone, talk to the person, type their question and put them on hold. There are very few people who can pull off that Herculean task. Bryan, despite spelling his name with a Y, later became part of our on-air family because of his uncanny ability to memorize thousands of sound drops and the corresponding codes on the computer (sorry for all that tech jargon; I forgot you may not all be as computer savvy as I am). When the radio station flipped formats to a computer playing Rhianna songs, I took him to work with me on my CBS sitcom pilot, “Ace in the Hole,” as a “floor PA” or something like that. Essentially a runner for the studio taping days. I knew that if the show got picked up he’d easily make his way up the ladder and I wanted to get him in on the ground floor. The night before he was due to start working I got a call. It was a

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Foreword

black chick who wanted to know if I was satisfied with my cable provider. I was. Then I got another call. It was Bryan and he did not have good news. Dizziness and other symptoms he’d been feeling as the radio show was collapsing were the result of brain tumor. The irony of the guy with the biggest brain on the staff—the guy who has the encyclopedic mind, the guy who goes on game shows—having it attacked by a tumor was sadly lost on no one. I hung up with him and immediately called Dr. Drew. Drew simply said, “Death sentence.” God bless that bedside manner. The last person Drew diagnosed with a death sentence was my wife’s best friend, Jennifer, who was dead within six months at age thirty-three. This is where Bryan’s journey begins and my foreword ends. I’ve got some stuff on Tivo I need to get to. I won’t say much more, I don’t want to step on any of the stories you’re about to read. But I will answer one question I’m sure all of you have at this point. No, the CBS pilot didn’t get picked up. I blame it on the fact that we didn’t have Bryan handling whatever the hell it was that he was supposed to be handling. —Adam Carolla

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Prologue

If you’re reading this, it means I’m already dead. Just kidding. I’m not dead.1 I’ve just always wanted to say that. It’s one of three things I’ve always wanted to say with 100 percent sincerity but never had the right opportunity. The other two: “I suppose you’re all wondering why I’ve summoned you here tonight” and . . . “Can your casino please provide me with a security escort so I can safely transport my winnings back to my helicopter?” Of those three phrases, you can clearly see why I chose the first one to start off this book. Although, it’s technically not the first time I’ve used that line. Or maybe it is. You be the judge. When I was first diagnosed with brain cancer at age thirty, my fiancée (Christie) and I decided to make out a last will and testament. In a sad reflection of my (im)maturity, I cared far less for what was in my will than how it started out. I insisted that it start with the line “If you’re reading this, it means I’m already dead.” This was comedy of the highest order to me. To Christie, not so  much. But this gallows humor would, I believed, help me get through whatever challenges cancer was going to throw at me. So please bear that in mind as you read this book. If a joke seems morbid or twisted or in some other way irreverent, just remind yourself, 1

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Spoiler alert.

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“This is the guy who thought it would be funny to start his last will and testament with ‘If you’re reading this, it means I’m already dead.’ ” Please, enjoy.

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1. Breaking Bald or, A Not- So- Mini Biography

“I suppose you’re all wondering why I’ve summoned you here tonight.” I wanted to start this chapter off with an appropriate quote. Let’s see . . . “I was born a poor black child.” —Navin Johnson Close, but that one isn’t quite right. “The details of my life are quite inconsequential.” — Dr. Evil That’s more like it. But here we go anyway with the obligatory “biography/early-life chapter.” I’ll try not to make it too painful. My parents (Mike and Nancy) were married on October 15, 1977, in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was apparently a hip seventies wedding; their first dance was to Chicago’s “Colour My World,” and the groomsmen wore ruffled tuxedos. After the reception, the newlyweds were whisked away in a 1932 Packard. They were from large Catholic families. My dad was twenty-three and the youngest child of four. My mom was just twenty years old and the middle child of five. They had met at a grocery store near San Francisco called QFI. Not in the produce aisle like in some romantic comedy 2; they both worked there. I was told that QFI stood for Quality Foods International and was at one point the third-largest grocery-store chain in the San Francisco Bay Area. I would argue that by confi ning yourself to one

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In the trailer, their eyes meet as they both reach for the last piece of okra, and the voice-over says, “This summer . . . there’s love on aisle seven!”

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geographic region, you forfeit the right to call yourselves international, but I admire their bravado. Less than three months after the wedding, my mom found out she was pregnant with me. This would be a shock for any twenty-year-old newlywed, but it was especially shocking for my mom, who had a copper IUD inserted in her at the time. For those of you who weren’t sexually active women in the 1970s, a copper IUD (intrauterine device) was a form of birth control that a doctor would implant inside a woman’s hoo-ha (the technical term for her reproductive organs). Worldwide, it’s the most commonly used type of reversible birth control, meaning a doctor can remove it from a woman’s body at any time. The failure rate for these devices is low, especially in the first year—as low as 0.1 percent. Yet my mom’s IUD failed, resulting in a bald, bouncing baby boy. I know what you’re thinking, This is what happens when your birth control and I  agree: This can only mean fails. God, I’d kill for that head of hair today. Bishop Family that I am the Chosen One. I was born on September 13, 1978, in San Mateo, California, about fifteen minutes south of San Francisco. Like most babies, I was born bald, and I actually had a nice, full head of hair until I was about thirteen years old, when it began falling out. So you could say I had a run of about twelve good years with hair. Three years after me my brother, Adam, was born, in 1982. So by the time my parents were in their midtwenties, they had been married for four years and had two young sons. I spent the first nine years of my life in San Bruno, California, also about fifteen minutes south of San Francisco. Growing up in San Bruno was like growing up in Manchester, England, with slightly better food. It was constantly 4

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cold and foggy. In every picture of me taken outside from birth to age nine, I’m wearing a coat or a sweater (or both). There are pictures of me at the beach with a heavy jacket on. Fortunately, there aren’t a lot of pictures of me outside; I was known as “the indoor kid” and Adam was known as “the outdoor kid.” Ironically, this has stayed true all the way to our current professions: I crack wise on a podcast (indoors) and Adam is a project manager for one of the largest landscaping companies in the Bay Area (outdoors).3

The happy family. Check out my sweet boots. Bishop Family

We weren’t poor— or if we were, I didn’t know it. But we definitely weren’t rich. My parents hadn’t gone to college. In fact, at that point, nobody in my family had; I came from a blue-collar family. My dad’s dad (my grandpa Frank) was a garbageman in San Bruno. My mom’s dad (my grandpa Robert Lorenzini, or, as he was known to everyone,

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By landscaping, I don’t mean they arrange rocks and cacti in your neighbor’s front yard. They built and maintain Stanford’s athletic fields, for example.

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Babe) was a fire captain in South San Francisco. But from their working-class upbringing my parents had learned resourcefulness. For example, my mom learned how to decorate cakes when she had me. So when it came time for special-request birthday cakes, she was able to make them herself. One year I had a Big Bird cake, complete with yellow coconut shavings. Another year, I had a sweet Transformers cake, upon which my mom had “drawn” a Decepticons insignia.4 Were they equal to the quality of something you might see on Ace of Cakes? No, but they were close, and for a fraction of the cost. And I never knew the difference. All I knew was that I had a totally awesome Transformers birthday cake, and all the other kids were jealous.5

A compilation of some of my mom’s homemade birthday cakes. Bishop Family

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The year was 2007, and I was twenty-nine years old. They were even more jealous when I polished off my fi fth piece of cake. I was a fat kid.

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pin the tail on the donkey, beanbag toss, or sack races. All homemade, of course. Perhaps the best example of my parents’ resourcefulness when it came to party games was a relay race where two teams of kids took turns running across the yard to a pile of my parents’ old clothes, and the first team to throw the clothes on over their own clothes and then tear them off again were the winners. Not exactly heady stuff, but you know what? We had a blast! Kids don’t care how much you spend on their birthday parties. Adults care how much you spend on your kids’ birthday parties. My parents probably spent $35 total on tiny beanbags, a piece of plywood, and some paint for my birthday. Compare that to a few hundred bucks for an afternoon bounce-house rental, which kids are going to get tired of after about half an hour, and pony rides, which are probably going to give your kid encephalitis. Add in the inevitable lawsuit when the pony wrangler gets drunk and accidentally “drops” his overalls, and it’s just not worth it.

Here we are at my fifth birthday, playing the clothesline game. Everyone got a bag of clothes, and whoever hung all of theirs on the clothesline first won. Later, I realized that we were

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just doing my parents’ laundry for them. Bishop Family

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Vacations were resourceful, too. Many summer and winter vacations were spent at my grandparents’ house in Lake Tahoe, California. My dad’s parents had retired and moved to a cabin in the mountain town, about four hours east of San Francisco. It was a great place to vacation as a child. It was warm in the summer and it would snow in the winter. My grandma Marie was . . . well, some might describe her (diplomatically) as challenging. I’ll say she was eccentric. She loved card games (really, anything that involved an element of gambling), yet she hated playing with children. Once in a while, she would get roped into playing a big family game of Go Fish or something, and one of us kids would do something a kid does, like spill a soda or play out of turn, and she would explode, ���THIS IS WHY I DON’T PLAY WITH KIDS!” She was part Syrian, and I picked up some Arabic curse words from her as an impressionable child.6 She wasn’t exactly a health nut: Her favorite foods, as I recall, were chicken skin, pizza (with extra salt liberally sprinkled on top), coffee, frozen Milky Way bars, 7UP, and peanut-butter-and-butter sandwiches. Actually, that last one was a lunch special that she would make for me (I was overweight). She barely tolerated some of my cousins, yet she loved the hell out of me. I was never exactly sure why; maybe it was because as the youngest child, my dad was her baby, therefore I was her baby’s baby? Regardless, I could do no wrong in her eyes. One of her habits would most mold me into the person I am today. My grandma had a movie collection that put most video stores to shame. But she never bought a movie. These were the resourceful Bishops, remember. She owned two VCRs and would make a duplicate of every single movie she ever rented. You know those FBI warnings that pop up before every movie you rent? My mom would tell me they were aimed at my grandma. She had shelves and shelves of video tapes, purchased in bulk from Costco, each with about three copied movies on it. She cataloged every movie on, an index card, complete -1— 0— +1—

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Years later, I would delight a Lebanese college buddy of mine by telling him to “eat shit” in Arabic.

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with (and I’m not joking or exaggerating) a description of the movie, a list of the actors, and a star rating. But illegally pirating rentals was only part of her OCD/hoardingdisease combo. Every week, on the day TV Guide was released, she would drive to the grocery store and buy a hot-off-the-presses copy. More than once, I witnessed a poor manager using a box cutter to cut open a box of TV Guides while she stood there berating him. “Why aren’t these on the rack?! They’re supposed to be on sale today!” Then she would go home and—with a highlighter—go through every movie playing on every channel and set up her recording schedule for the week. On many occasions, if someone wandered too close to the VCR while she was recording a movie, she’d yell, “Don’t touch anything! I’m recording!” If you were lucky, she’d be in the kitchen, getting herself a frozen candy bar and a 7UP. In which case you got “yelled at” by a yellow Post-it note that she affi xed to her VCR: “DON’T TOUCH—RECORDING!” I was in movie heaven. This is probably how I became an indoor kid. Here I was in the glorious Sierra Nevada mountain range. I could fish or ski or snowboard or go for a hike. But, no, what did I do? I watched movies with my grandmother. So I got my love of movies, my love of fattening foods, and my love of gambling from my dad’s mom. But I got my love of trivia from my mom’s parents. I’ll explain. My parents had me and my brother when they were relatively young, meaning that by the time My grandpa Babe, just before he retired from we were nine and twelve, for exthe fire department. Bishop Family ample, they were barely in their

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thirties. They wanted to go on vacations and have fun without two young children in tow. So they’d often leave me with one set of grandparents and leave Adam with the other. One time, when I was about twelve, they left me with my mom’s parents, Babe and Betty, for about five days. Babe Lorenzini, as I said earlier, was a retired fire captain in South San Francisco. They would give me a card for my birthday or Christmas with money inside—ten or twenty bucks, something age appropriate. From as far back as I can recall, whenever my grandfather gave me any gift money, he would write inside the card, Remember, education = money! It was a simple and smart piece of advice. Well, during the few days that I stayed with them, Grandpa Babe decided to reinforce this advice that education really did equal money. Being that they were grandparents, one of their favorite afternoon activities was watching Jeopardy! Only this time, we would watch it together. My grandpa said I could play along with the contestants on TV, and for every question I got right, he’d give me a quarter. Then, for every question I got right in Double Jeopardy! he’d give me fifty cents. And if I got the Final Jeopardy! question right, he’d give me a dollar. My grandpa hadn’t accounted for a couple things. First, I was a smart kid. I had been selected for a school program called GATE, which stood for Gifted and Talented Education. Mostly we played computer games and solved riddles, but I got to miss an afternoon of class once a week, so I was thrilled. Second, I was an unusually wellread kid. Remember, I was the indoor kid. I doubt my brother would have done as well at answering Jeopardy! questions. He was busy with other things, such as “having friends” and “being good at sports” and “not getting beat up by bullies.” You know, stupid stuff that I didn’t have time for. Finally, my grandpa failed to take into account that Jeopardy! aired twice a day, every day. So we were set for ten viewings of the show while I was staying with them. I don’t remember exactly how much money I won off my grandpa during that stay, but I know it was in excess of $40. Which is kind of 10

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astounding, if you consider it was mostly accumulated in twenty-fiveand fifty-cent increments. I remember being overwhelmed by my winnings. Forty dollars is a lot of money to a twelve-year-old kid of relatively humble beginnings, especially in 1990. Sadly, this is easily one of the two or three greatest highlights of my life from this period.7 I was in middle school, which is a tough enough time for anyone, but consider the following: I was overweight. I had glasses. Thick ones. I was smart/nerdy and I liked things that nobody else cared about, least of all the cool kids. Such things as Oakland A’s baseball8 and WWF wrestling9. I was losing my hair, which made me sort of a genetic freak. I was barely average at sports, which meant I wasn’t making a ton of friends on the baseball diamond. And I had just moved to town a couple of years earlier, which meant that while everyone else had friendships that went all the way back to preschool, I hardly knew anyone. Really, I had no friends. People think this is an exaggeration, so I’ll be totally honest with you: During the excruciating years between ages nine and fourteen, I had two friends: Joe Knipp and Kenny Bourquin. Joe was a friend from Little League and Kenny was a social misfit like me, who loved Saturday Night Live and Get  Smart. Again, we were thirteen. It always amuses me when I run into someone from my middle school and I introduce them to my wife. She’ll say, “How do you guys know each other?” And the  person will answer, “Oh, we were friends in middle school.” Social decorum dictates that I smile and nod and act pleasant, but inside, I’m saying, 7

My other two greatest highlights from that time in my life? Hitting a grand slam in the fi rst inning of my Little League championship game and the Oakland A’s winning the 1989 World Series. We then lost the championship game in the last inning, and the A’s dynasty turned out to be fueled entirely by steroids. The lesson: Never get excited about anything. 8 We lived in Giants country, and every other kid I knew was a Giants fan. I’m much more of a Giants fan nowadays, but I was an A’s fan at the time because that was the fi rst Little League team I was on, and your fi rst Little League team always ends up being your fi rst favorite team when you’re a kid. 9 I could easily have given a doctoral dissertation on the WWF when I was eleven years old. That’s how much I cared about it. In fact, here are the top five things I loved as an eleven-year-old that nobody else cared about: (5). Baseball cards; (4) Jose Canseco; (3) WWF wrestling; (2) Saturday Night Live; (1) journalism. Hard to see why I had no friends, huh?

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“Really? We were friends? Because I don’t remember getting invited to your birthday parties. Or talking to you. Ever.” Luckily, I sort of hit my stride, socially speaking, in high school. It all started with a summer film program for high school students held at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. It was the summer before my senior year of high school. I had learned about a summer journalism program at Northwestern, held by the National High School Institute (NHSI). This was kind of like applying to college: I had to submit my transcript, my SAT scores, letters of recommendation, the whole nine yards. I was rejected by the journalism program (no doubt due to my terrible grades—more on that in a minute), but I got a letter a week or so later that basically said, “I know we rejected you from our journalism program, but would you consider attending our Creative Media Writing program instead?” I looked into it, and creative media writing meant “screenwriting.” I had never considered screenwriting before but (a) I loved writing, (b) I loved movies, (c) I didn’t have a bunch of close friends, and (d) the friends I did have were all serious baseball players, which meant they’d be busy all summer playing in their respective summer leagues. So, faced with the choice of a summer spent writing with like-minded students at a prestigious university versus sharing a bedroom with my thirteen-year-old brother, I eagerly accepted their offer. Starting in 1987, my brother and I were roommates. When Adam was 5 and I was 8, my family moved into a two-bedroom, one-anda-half bathroom house in San Carlos, California. Think about that: four people, two bedrooms, one shower. Adam and I would share a bedroom for the next ten years, all the way through middle school and high school (for me). They say “familiarity breeds contempt.” Let’s just say I was very familiar with my brother for those years. For the record, teenage boys should not share a bedroom. What probably seemed like an adorable experiment when we were 8 and 5 (“They’ll love getting to play together all day, every day!”) became a powder keg of raging testosterone by the time we were sixteen and thirteen. Just a poorly conceived plan from the start. 12

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So you can see how I was chomping at the bit to get out of the house. That it was a scholastic endeavor meant my parents were behind it 100 percent. It was one of the few times I had shown any enthusiasm about something related to my education. I had saved up enough money from my after-school grocery-bagging job to pay the summer tuition,10 so off to Illinois I went. It was a magical summer. I learned a ton about movies and writing, but the summer was more important for me socially. Whereas I had previously been shunned or mocked for my nerdier tendencies—my enthusiastic love of movies or trivia or wrestling or sports—now I was in an environment where such knowledge was celebrated. That’s a small piece of advice I have for any parent whose teenager is going through a tough time. Find something that the team loves—sports, for example—and find a place where the team can be celebrated for it. If your teen isn’t a great athlete, but he loves sports anyway, send the kid to sports-announcing camp (they actually have those) and watch him or her blossom. If they’re bookish and into science, send them to science camp or space camp. That summer, I grew my love of movies, expanded my style of writing, and made some great friends—I even met my good buddy JD, who would eventually be the best man in my wedding. I returned to school for my senior year and became a confident, outgoing, and almost-popular person. That (mostly) carried over into college. Somehow, by the skin of my teeth, I got accepted into USC. My grades were abysmal, but I had a relatively high SAT score, a couple of glowing letters of recommendation, and I put together a portfolio of my published writing samples, as if to say, “See, I wasn’t goofing off and playing video games the whole time I wasn’t doing my homework; I was actually bettering myself!” It must have worked because I was somehow allowed to enroll in the fall of 1996. In my four years at USC, I changed majors once (from print journalism to creative writing), had three semicelebrities for

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The gentlemen of Pi Kappa Phi. There I am, front and center, back when I was just known as “Balding Bryan.” I think this picture was taken at an event on a boat. Yes, that is a black guy. His name is Andre. There is also one other “celebrity” in this picture. Bonus points if you can spot him. Author’s collection

professors,11 and even founded a fraternity. When I enrolled in college, I had no idea what a fraternity even was. I went through rush my first semester as a freshman, but didn’t exactly fall in love with any of the houses on USC’s Fraternity Row. Once the semester got rolling and I hadn’t joined a fraternity, I kind of felt left out. So me and my buddy JD—the same guy I had met the summer before at Northwestern (he had enrolled at USC at the same time as me)— decided to join a house the next semester. Before we could, though, a couple of recruiters came from the national offices of Pi Kappa Phi. They said they were founding a chapter at USC and needed some strong leaders to start the chapter. They should have been honest and said 11

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I had a fi lm class taught by fi lm critic Leonard Maltin, a creative writing class taught by author T. C. Boyle (probably the best class I ever took), and a screenwriting class taught by Ron Friedman, the writer of both Transformers: The Movie and G.I. Joe: The Movie. Guess which of those three had me the most starstruck?

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they needed some suckers, but we didn’t find that out until later. I figured, here was a chance to do something really interesting and unusual—rather than just join a house, we’d establish our chapter and mold it in our image, carefully selecting members who reflected the ideals that we set forth in our charter. Basically, we were idiots. Founding a fraternity chapter is an insane amount of work. If you’re a college freshman just interested in having fun and drinking beer for four years, pick a good fraternity and join up. Not that my experience wasn’t enjoyable; it was, I believe, exponentially more rewarding for me than if I had simply joined another, established house. But I wasn’t like most people. I wasn’t interested in just drinking beer for four years.12 In my time as a founding father of Pi Kappa Phi’s Delta Rho chapter, we earned our charter, bought a house in the middle of the Row, and raised a ton of money for charity along the way. I served as the chapter’s historian (alumni-relations chair, essentially) and Rush Chairman. My senior year, the other members voted me Brother of the Year. What I’m about to say may sound corny (because it is corny), but it’s the greatest honor of my life, before or since. My brothers—many of whom I’d recruited as rush chairman— of the chapter I helped found essentially said, “Of all the people doing all they can for this house this year, you did the best.” I may not have had many friends before my senior year in high school, but at least I was a good student. Oh, wait, strike that. I was a horrible student. Just terrible. Despite being deemed “gifted” at age ten and placed in a special program for like-minded fifth-graders, my grades started to slip. Actually, they “slipped” the same way Tom Cruise’s character slipped off the roof of a building at the end of Vanilla Sky. Twice in middle school, I achieved a grade point average below 2.0. I once failed PE in the sixth grade. Not because I couldn’t do any of the exercises, but because every day I forgot my green gym shorts that we were required to wear. If you forgot any part of your PE uniform, you got docked a point. Well, I got docked a point every single day that semester. 12

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I mean, I defi nitely did that, too. Make no mistake.

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That same semester, I took a yearly standardized test that was mandated by the school district. It measured you aptitude-wise and was partly designed to identify kids with special needs who were performing beneath their grade level. In every area related to English—reading comprehension, language, etc.—I tested at a 12+. That meant I was reading and writing at above a twelfth-grade level as a sixth-grader. It was the highest score the test could report. So when I brought home a report card with a 1.67 GPA and an F in PE, my parents were understandably confused and angry. The cracks in the armor had started to show years earlier, but nobody had recognized them. In my first few years of school, I got straight A’s in all subjects. But in the behavioral section—the portion where they give you an O (outstanding), an S (satisfactory) or an N (needs improvement)—I got a lot of N’s. The comments, from year to year, were along the lines of “Bryan is very hyper in class” and “Bryan needs to do a better job of controlling his outbursts.” I remember dozens and dozens of occasions when a teacher would scold me for yelling an answer out of turn. My only vivid memory of second grade is from the very first day. I was the new kid in class—I had changed schools again that year13—and when the teacher asked the class a question, I blurted out the answer. She gently reminded me, “Now, Bryan, I know you’re new here, but in this class, we raise our hands.” You’d think my public shaming would have corrected my behavior, but nope. At the end of the semester, my report card had that familiar refrain: “Bryan is disruptive in class.” In fact, here’s a sampling of actual comments made by my teachers on my elementaryschool report cards: “Likes attention! Speaks out of turn” . . . “VERY verbal. He needs to control his self-discipline in a group situation” . . . “A bit mature mouth (‘No way, Jose’—teenage jargon)” . . . “Excitable. Can get carried away” . . . “Needs to be more patient” . . . “Chooses to act out and not -1— 0— +1—

13

I changed schools every year from kindergarten to fourth grade, which only exacerbated my problems in the classroom.

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only disturb his classmates but has not been able to finish his own work” . . . “Many daily assignments have not been completed on time” . . . “Behavior has deteriorated in class. Principal will be phoning to set up a conference” . . . “Needs to watch his self-control at times, as he gets very involved and forgets that he is to work reasonably quiet” . . . “Needs to apply more consistent daily self-control effort” . . . “Often not on task in class” . . . “Excessive socializing in class” . . . “Study skills need improvement” . . . “Inconsistent quality of work.” And of course a whole bunch of N’s in Demonstrates Self-Control, Demonstrates Self-Discipline, Conduct, and Listens Attentively. So by the time I got to middle school, things had spiraled out of control. Despite testing at a college level for reading and language skills, and despite being placed in a program for gifted students just a year or so earlier, my academics were falling apart. I would forget assignments all the time, and when I would remember them, I’d forget to do them until the last minute. On many occasions, teachers would announce to the class (as the final bell rang), “Don’t forget, your final projects are due tomorrow,” and I’d think, “Oh, crap, I don’t even know what she’s talking about.” My parents have home-video footage of me hurriedly applying dried macaroni to the roof of a model Spanish mission at the kitchen table. “What is that, Bryan?” my mom asked from behind the camera. “It’s my report on a Spanish mission,” I said. “It is? When is it due?” “Tomorrow.” “Hm, first I’ve heard of it,” she muttered passive-aggressively. It wasn’t just assignments I’d forget. I lost my glasses on an almost monthly basis in middle school. Sometimes I’d fi nd them—in my locker or in a jacket pocket— sometimes I wouldn’t. There’s homevideo footage of this, too. My mom taped me sitting in front of the TV—as close as I could get— squinting to see because of my severe nearsightedness. “Bryan, where are your glasses?” she asked. My parents asked me this all the time. It was like the chorus to the world’s worst song.

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I looked at the camera. “Um, they’re in my locker,” I lied. Of course I had lost them again. “Oh, I see,” my mom said, clearly not buying it. My forgetfulness was apparently placing a financial strain on my family. One day, my grandpa, Frank, (of all people) took me aside and said, “It’d be really helpful if you could find your glasses. It’s really putting a burden on your mom and dad.” That’s how you know we weren’t rich, by the way. A $90 pair of glasses was about to financially break a family of four. “Okay, Grandpa, I will,” I said. And I 100 percent meant it. I wanted nothing more than to remember such things as, oh, I don’t know, doing assignments and not losing my glasses every two months. But I was completely incapable of doing so. My absentmindedness wasn’t limited to big school projects, either. I rarely did homework. Again, not because I couldn’t or because I didn’t want to, I would just . . . space out, I guess. My poor parents would tear their hair out trying to figure out why I was doing so poorly in school. They had me put on a program where I physically handed each of my teachers a chart every day with my homework assignments on it. It was supposed to remind me to actually do the homework. Instead, I just stopped bringing the form to my teachers. My parents would incredulously ask, “Why?” It’s a good thing they never took me to a psychotherapist. He would probably have thought I was trying to kill them with my indifference. My problems continued into high school. I attended Juniper. Serra High School, an all-boys Catholic School in San Mateo, California. One day, in Mr. Sullivan’s sophomore Honors English class, he gave the class an extracredit assignment. We had to write an essay on some topic—it was toward the end of the semester and I had already mentally checked out. I had somehow tested my way into the class— that is, I achieved a high enough score on my placement tests the summer before that they had put me in the advanced class—but had performed so poorly that semester that my demotion back to regular English the next year was all but inevitable. So when Mr. Sullivan handed out the essay assignment to everyone, I stuffed it into my 18

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backpack and thought, “Eh, I’ll get around to it later tonight.” Then, I pulled out a piece of paper and started to doodle. Forty-five minutes later, Mr. Sullivan announced, “Five minutes left.” I thought to myself, “What the hell is he talking about? And why isn’t anybody talking?” I looked around and saw the entire class with their pencils in their hands, writing furiously. To my horror, I realized that the extracredit assignment wasn’t a take-home assignment—it was an inclass assignment. I panicked, realizing that everyone else in class had spent the last forty-five minutes writing their extracredit essays. In that instance, what was I going to do? I feebly wrote a few sentences, then the bell mercifully rang. Everyone dropped his paper off on Mr. Sullivan’s desk. I wrote a final sentence or two, then meekly dropped my paper onto his desk. He instantly saw that I had only written a paragraph, whereas all the others had used the front and back of their papers. “Nice effort,” he said to me sarcastically. For a moment, I wanted to protest, but what was I going to say? “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention when you explained the assignment”? I was damned if I did, damned if I didn’t. I said nothing and walked out of class with my tail between my legs. Mr. Sullivan wasn’t the only teacher I ran afoul of during high school. I probably I pissed off more teachers than I didn’t. My junioryear history teacher, Mr. Bertetta, was a cool guy. He’d graduated from my high school in the sixties, and he always wanted to tell us “The worst student”?! Come on! Look at that about going to see the Doors or face! (Actually, stop looking. Let’s just pretend the  Rolling Stones in college. I this picture never happened.) Bishop Family should have been enraptured— all

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I listened to in high school was classic rock—but instead, I would uncontrollably blurt out whatever came to mind, just to annoy him. One day, after I‘d particularly disrupted class, I came home from school to find my very pissed-off mom waiting for me by the answering machine. She pressed play and revealed a very angry message from Mr. Bertetta, included the sentence “Your son is the worst student I’ve had the misfortune of teaching in twenty years.” Part of me wants that on my tombstone. My mom, not so much.

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Shrinkage (Chapter 1)